Goddamn! Com Tam

Com Tam Thien Huong

The BBQ shrimp combo plate with its plump, butterflied shrimp is a dish that serves up quality versus huge quantities.

The BBQ shrimp combo plate with its plump, butterflied shrimp is a dish that serves up quality versus huge quantities.

Photo by Becky Grunewald

Good for: Vietnamese comfort food
Notable dishes: Fried shrimp cake, BBQ pork house special combo plateVietnamese, South Sac

Com Tam Thien Huong

6835 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95823

(916) 476-4258

Recently I was craving the “broken rice” Vietnamese dish com tam, and despite my crippling lack of a sense of direction, I thought I could set off driving sans GPS and locate Com Tam Dat Thanh, which I reviewed back in February. I got to Stockton Boulevard in South Sac and realized I had somehow missed it. Sitting at a red light, I hastily typed “com tam” into Google Maps and as it turned green I followed the directions. But wait, this wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t on Stockton. I stubbornly refused to pull over and reorient, so I ended up at Com Tam Thien Huong.

First impression: It’s fancy. The booths and chairs are midnight blue with flashy silver accents and silver pendant lights. It’s slammed with customers on a weekday afternoon, and as soon as I order, I’m chagrined to find out they are already out of egg cake (cha trung), one of the traditional com tam accoutrements.

But that’s OK, because the thit nuong dac biet (BBQ pork house special combo plate, $15) is loaded up with other noms. (I just wrote that to make my husband recoil and to test if he’s reading my reviews.) The fried shrimp cake is a shatteringly crispy golden packet of deep-fried tofu skin encasing a shrimp paste and water-chestnut filling. This dish would rock at dim sum. The shredded pork skin was toasty with rice flour, and springy rather than rubbery. The squiggly skewered grilled pork had a lemongrass, char and sweet-gooey glaze combo that knocked me for a loop. A later visit, when I sampled the BBQ chicken, was almost as good, if not quite as succulent. I was surprised that the BBQ shrimp combo plate only came with one plump, butterflied shrimp, but Com Tam Thien Huong serves up quality over huge quantities.

And they’re not just good with com tam—like that person you hated in high school because they were smart and funny and cute—the menu at CTTH is well-rounded and their other dishes are also marvelous.

The delicate and lightly spiced pho ($9.75) has strips of truly rare steak that were more flavorful than a recent $54 steak I had (cough cough, Diplomat Steakhouse, cough). The hu tieu thap cam (served dry or with soup, I chose dry, $10.50) is a revelation of hot noodles coated with oily, tart and salty umami sauce dotted with verdant garlic chives and diced squares of fried pork skin. The soupy bottom of this bowl, brightened with a squeeze of lime, is a slurp I dream about.

I had to order the unusual-on-a-Vietnamese-menu Hainan chicken rice ($10.50), which is a Chinese dish that is considered a national dish of Singapore, but also served in Thailand and Vietnam. In contrast to the intense flavors of the other dishes I’d sampled, it was bland, and could be a good dish for a picky kid or adult. The tender, poached breast was served with the cilantro-like, earthy sawtooth herb (or ngo gai), quick-pickled cabbage, and a side of rice flavored with the chicken’s cooking broth.

Any of these dishes would be well accompanied by a sparkling, salty plum drink ($4), served as a can of club soda with a plastic cup of ice and a tart plum preserve at the bottom.

I’m so glad that my lack of directional sense finally yielded something good: A new favorite lunch spot.